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Strong, stable May does weak wobble

THERESA MAY has finally responded to her top colleagues’ Mayday call – and U-turned on her flagship social care policy just days after she invented it.

The Prime Minister – who called a “cut and run” General Election to avoid splitting her own party over her Brexit plans – had to come out with new Tory policies in a matter of days. With the crisis over social care one of the main talking points of the election campaign, May decided to launch a brand new policy which had not been discussed through in the Tory Party.

The policy relied on plugging the national funding gap in social care by trying to get more individuals to pay for more of their long term care while relatives covered their short term needs. Individuals would have to pay for their own care, whether they moved into residential care or had people coming to help them in their own homes, until they only had £100,000 of their savings or the value of their house left. Relatives could take up to one year unpaid leave from work to care for someone who, say, had a terminal condition and was in the last months of their lives.

Both systems would have led to families, including the frail person, trying to skimp on care on the basis of trying to eke out the funds or preserve them for the next generation. The basic unfairness of the policy was quickly pointed out by May’s critics. Someone who rents a home all their life and spends their income on living well would have no assets at the end of their life and the state would pay for their care needs. On the other hand, someone who bought a home and paid a mortgage rather than rent would have to use the value of that home to pay for their own care. In both cases, the individuals would have paid tax on their income – but the homeowner would have his or her income “taxed” a second time when it came to paying for their care needs.

It was also a highly discriminatory policy, with women far more likely to stop work to care for a dying relative – partly because this is still seen as women’s work rather than a male responsibility and partly because women’s wages still tend to be lower than men’s so the household can more easily survive without them.

Theresa May should have anticipated the backlash of hostility her proposals generated – but she didn’t. As critics tore into the lack of detail, she brushed calls for more information aside, saying this would all be decided after she was elected. It wasn’t good enough. As Labour’s very different policy saw the Party grow in popularity, while no one had a good word to say about her own plans, May gave in – and announced that the cap on care costs would be retained, after all. The new (revised) policy therefore appears to be that you can keep the first £100,000 of your savings/house value, spend the next £74,000 of your savings/house value on your care, and then anything left over cannot be what you keep (as that is limited) or what you spend (as that is capped) so… Well, at least that would leave something still to be decided in the post-election consultation.

The Tory policy forcing pensioners to pay for their care was quickly dubbed the “dementia tax”, because people would be taking a gamble on what medical condition brought their lives to an end. People “lucky” enough to have a short terminal disease would not have to pay for care for long – while those with a condition like dementia, with which they could live for some years – would be “taxed” on the illness they were suffering from.

Twenty-four hours ago, Theresa May’s own ministers were heading in different directions. Boris Johnson was saying that the new policy was generally OK but the detail would need to be thrashed out, whereas Work and Pension Secretary Damian Green, who is much closer to dealing with the policy, was saying that it was largely agreed.

Labour has been stressing the human cost of Theresa May’s policy, and calling for a U-turn. This latest, desperate announcement is not enough to satisfy that call.

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